Chance to get on list for housing vouchers draws crowd

Lloyd Collins, who is on disability as he recovers from heart surgery and a stroke, was among 225 people who turned out Thursday just for the opportunity to get on a waiting list to receive federal assistance so he can afford to live in private housing.

Sheila Frasier wants to move to a better neighborhood. Bonnie Barr needs help just to stay where she is. Lloyd Collins is trying to keep his bills manageable as he recovers from a stroke and heart surgery.

The three Charleston residents were among 225 people who lined up Thursday morning for a chance to join a long waiting list for federal housing assistance.

The crowd formed early outside the Kiawah Homes Community Center to apply for the Charleston Housing Authority's Housing Choice Voucher program (formerly known as Section 8). The program gives families money so they can afford rent in the private market.

The problem is that there are no openings, and the waiting list already numbers around 400 people, officials said. The housing authority last opened up the waiting list to new applicants several months back, and some 300 people showed up to get a slot.

Frasier, 39, said she just wanted to get her name on the list. She lives in the Gadsden Green housing complex downtown, which has been the site of shootings and other problems in recent years.

Frasier said she is eager to find a better place to raise her 4-year-old grandson, but needs some help to afford a new place.

Collins, who is on disability because of medical ailments, said he keeps a positive outlook as he tries to keep afloat in the down economy. But a voucher sure would help, he said.

"It's been kind of hectic for me, but I try to take it day-by-day," he said. "Things could be better. I just hope they don't get no worse."

Barr, 81, is one of 21 residents in another housing subsidy program that is ending. The program caters mainly to senior citizens, the disabled or mentally ill. Workers from the nonprofit Humanities Foundation, which owns the complexes where these folks live, got up before dawn Thursday to make sure the group was first in line to join the Section 8 voucher waiting list.

Barr said she doesn't want to lose her independence and have to move in with family, but she is concerned that she will lose her apartment in West Ashley without aid. "It's nice and clean. It's just wonderful," she said. "But if I don't get help, I am stuck."

Don Cameron, president of the housing authority, said the crowd that showed up was about 100 people short of what he had anticipated. That makes for a less crowded field of applicants, but it's still a waiting game for vouchers.

"But the first step has been taken," he said. "Now, they are at least in the game."